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The Prayer Cloth
by Quentin Shambley
Have you ever been awake late at night and turned on the television only to be greeted by a televangelist voicing outrageous claims about faith healing? Before your eyes, you see the sick being cured; the wheelchair confined getting up and walking; all in the name of the Lord. You ask yourself, “Is this stuff really true? Can that stuff really happen?” With a simple dab of a cloth, these men claim to rid diseased people of all their infirmities. Can a prayed over piece of cloth bring wellness to mankind? Many religious ministers and churches have advocated the use of prayer in healing. One such minister is Don Stewart of the Don Stewart Association. On his website are testimonials of people testifying of the power of Minister Stewart’s prayer over them. One such testimonial reads:
"I had a bad back. It hurt so much I couldn't
bend over. Don Stewart prayed for me and I was healed." Later, he proved his healing by lifting Rev. Stewart off his feet. The crowd shouted praises to God as the man rejoiced in his healing.
RATIONALE FOR PRAYER CLOTH HEALING:
Along with Don Stewart, many ministers and churches have advocated the use of a prayer cloth in order to bring blessing and prosperity to those who believe in its healing power. Among the advocated blessings is the ability to be healed of any specific ailment if the cloth is rubbed over the corresponding locus of disease. Minister Don Stewart holds a website where he advertises the use of his prayer cloth with the message, “Don Stewart wants to place in your hands the ‘Green Prosperity Prayer Cloth’, which Don Stewart has personally blessed and anointed. Thousands of people around the world have used this Biblical point of contact prayer cloth to receive abundant blessings of financial prosperity ( http://www.donstewartassociation.com/greencloth.htm).”
SKEPTICISM BEHIND PRAYER CLOTH HEALING CLAIMS:
Much skepticism has arisen in response to miraculous boasts such as those made by Minister Don Stewart. Many question the efficacy of prayer cloths and other faith healing objects such as holy oil, anointed coins, Jesus Billfold’s, and the like. Many televangelists and T.V. ministries have been regarded as fakes and ploys to seek financial gain from the masses in exchange for questionable miraculous healings and blessings such as the one testified about in the above picture. One such televangelist is Minister Robert “Bob” Tilton, of Dallas Texas, who underwent investigations and received lawsuits for questionable practices. Investigative reports show that Tilton received prayer letters and requests enclosed with $1000. It was also reported that Tilton utilized the prayer cloth and anointing oil as one of his schemes to receive money and not follow through with prayer letters. The prayer cloths were promoted with this message:
When you receive the enclosed Miracle Cloth back from me, open the enclosed special package of oil and anoint the point of your need.... Let the Holy Spirit lead you in applying this Miracle Anointing Oil and Miracle Cloth in faith to pictures of your loved ones, to your billfold, to the doorposts of your home, to your body. However he shows you, apply this Miracle Cloth and Anointing Oil in faith for special miracles.
In response to these allegations, Tilton claimed he was being “persecuted” much like the true Christians referred to in the Bible
( http://www.skeptiseum.org/exhibits/miracles/miraclecloth.html). Similar prayer cloth scandals have been publicized such as one in which a person would give their phone number and address only to be sent a heart-felt computer generated letter petitioning for that person to send in a prayer cloth request while hinting at a financial “seed”
( http://www.bible.ca/tongues-photogallery-pentecostal-trinkets.htm ).
HISTORICAL EVIDENCE OF PRAYER CLOTH HEALING:
Use of prayer cloths have ancient biblical origins. In history, prayer cloths have traditionally been taken from the clothing of various saints and apostles, as well as Jesus Christ. It seems that all advocates of this method of healing draw their roots from the Bible scripture in Acts 19:11-12 which says, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” Prayer cloths are likened unto these “handkerchiefs” from which the power of Jesus flowed. Other scripture outlining the origin of this belief can be found in Mathew 9:20 and Mathew 14:35-37 in which Jesus heals a multitude of sick and diseased people by simply allowing them to touch a piece of his clothes. However, it is not the cloth in itself that is responsible for the healing. Objects within themselves are powerless, therefore it is the faith accompanying the administration of the cloth that brings healing. That faith is manifested in prayer and seeking the cloth trusting that God has the power to heal with it
( http://www.commercemarketplace.com/home/Apostolate/onhold/History_of_Prayer_Cloths.html ).
SKEPTICISM ABOUT MODERN DAY PRAYER CLOTH HEALING:
From the scriptures and practices of true Christianity, it seems that many have come to exploit these words and practices for financial gain. It is believed that by promising biblical miracles such as healing, many “religious leaders” have manipulated the scriptures to support their private ministries. Acts 19:11-12 never eludes to Paul and the other apostles asking for the handkerchiefs back with monetary offerings in order to pray over. On the contrary, Paul and the other apostles were advocates of giving freely just as they had been freely given the gift of healing. There are many scriptures which discount the claims that different ministers and ministries are making. One of these scriptures is a direct attack on the “ministry” of televangelists classifying them as false prophets. It is found in 2 Peter 2:2-3 saying, “Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up… ( http://www.myfortress.org/PrayerClothes.html).”
SUPPORTING EVIDENCE OF PRAYER HEALING:
There is a lot of information from people either defending prayer cloths and other spiritual miracle cures or attacking it as hoaxes and scams to swindle money from unsuspecting believers. Amongst all the heresy, there is empirical evidence that shows the effectiveness of prayer as a form of healing. Prayer is now being seen as an alternative medical means to heal the body outside of traditional medications. It is becoming used more prevalently in the medical field as an established complimentary form of care.
BIOLOGICAL AND MEDICAL SUPPORT FOR PRAYER:
In one study, evidence shows that creativity in medical care along with spirituality can heal by changing a person’s physiology and attitude from one of stress to one of deep relaxation. This takes place by the brain’s ability to stimulate the body towards parasympathetic arousal in which several bodily processes, such as heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, go down. In addition, endorphins, the body’s natural opiates, are released triggering the immune system to function more efficiently. The endorphins also act in such a way as to numb pain receptors and give a feeling of general euphoria along with mental and physical well-being. “When people engage in creative or spiritual acts, even as passive observers, the process creates hope, restores optimism, and helps them cope with debilitating problems.” Neurophysiology studies show that art, meditation, and healing all come from the same source in the body and they are all associated with similar brainwave patterns and mind-body changes. This studies give evidence that prayer has a biological component in healing apart from the spiritual realm of belief ( Lane, 2005).
HISTORY OF SPIRITUAL ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE:
In history, there is specific evidence of spiritual healing outside of the teachings of the bible. In hunter-gatherer cultures, sacred rituals were observed on a daily basis where members of the community would dance around as if in a trance or meditative state in the effort to free their healing energy. Certain cultures had a healer who was also the religious and artistic leader of their respective groups. They were known as Shaman. They would allow their patients to meditate on artistic images, paintings, or chanting sounds and reconnect with the parts of themselves that needed healing. Certain Navajo Tribes still implement these medicinal practices today (2005). In a sense, the ministry of prayer cloths can be seen as a way to imitate and connect with this form of healing. When using these cloths, one is directed to enter into prayer and meditation over their specific ailments much as these different cultures have done. The focusing of one’s mind towards the problematic area with the cloth could evoke positive medicinal results.
CLAIMS IN SUPPORT OF SPIRITUAL HEALING:
In modern times, prayer has been classified as a complimentary therapy (CT) to more direct and primary forms of health care treatments such as cancer. The Dictionary of Alternative Medicine defines spiritual and faith healing as, “entrusting the healing process to a ‘higher’ God through prayer (Segen, 1998).” This includes religious rituals, seeking a person with the ability to invoke supernatural healing powers, or personal prayer. Prayer is defined as human communication or conversation with the divine and is used prevalently throughout the world. In America, prayer is the most widely used CT. A survey of over 31,000 adults showed that 45.2% used prayer for health as a CT of the 62% who used an alternative therapy. 2% of those in the division of 45.2% engaged in a healing ritual which might or might not include use of a prayer cloth. Unlike many other therapies, prayer does not have a target group and is not specifically linked with any demographic group. Although Blacks and the elderly are more inclined to utilize prayer as a CT, it is free and available for use to the young, old, mildly sick, terminally ill, educated, uneducated, black, white, or any other alike (Taylor, 2005).
A randomized clinical trial was performed in order to study the effects of intercessory prayer.
Participants were selected randomly and volunteers committed to praying daily for the life concern or problem of the member of the intervention group. Participants were unaware of being prayed for.
It was found that the amount of concern for baseline problems at the follow-up session was significantly lower in the intervention group when the corresponding subjects believed their problems could be resolved. Only if the patients initially believed their problems could be resolved did they appear to have a reduced sense of concern.
This could be an argument supporting skepticism in prayer cloths (Katerndahl et al, 2004). The one who does not believe that it will work might not receive corresponding positive results.
An experiment on spirituality and pain was performed on Sickle-Cell Disease (SCD) patients. SCD is a painful genetic disorder prevalent among the African-American community.
In the SCD experiments, a number of subjective surveys were completed by the patients measuring pain, religiosity, psychological distress, and social desirability.
It was found that church attendance was significantly associated with reported measures of pain with those attending church 1 or more times in a week having the lowest scores.
It is predicted that the positive affects of church attendance stem from a combination of increased social support, expanded psychological resources, positive health practices, and a stronger sense of coherence. Those measuring high on rankings of spirituality are more likely to have positive psychological well-being and less likely to be susceptible to depression and anxiety associated with SCD pain.
Specifically, prayer and bible study demonstrate positive correlations with mental health measures and medical outcomes. Even more remarkable is the fact that frequent religious attendance was associated with decreasing rates of physical disability over time. A similar 9 year longitudinal analysis of 21,204 adults showed that weekly church attendees lived an average of 7 years longer than non-attendees. This number was doubled in the African American community to 14 years. These results could however, be confounded by the additional societal stressors that might be experienced by those choosing not to involve themselves with religious activity (Bosworth et al, 2005).
Prayer has been identified as a legitimate complementary therapy in alternative medicine. Various studies have shown that prayer, along with other spiritual practices such as meditation, church attendance, and bible study, helps to reduce pain in diseased patients along with providing for their mental and emotional well-being. These religious practices also serve to provide one with a positive environment and social network from which to get better. If taken seriously, the more one indulges in prayer and other religious practices, the greater the likelihood of that person reporting subjectively positive feelings about their respective ailment.
The effectiveness of the prayer cloth, however, can not be substantiated. Prayer and faith is the foundation and basis of the cloth’s power to heal. The efficacy of prayer has only been proven as a complementary therapy, not as a primary treatment. Though the prayer cloth may assist in alleviating the negatively adaptive symptoms of certain diseases, it does not have the scientifically proven ability to cure disease as claimed by different churches and ministries. The controversy surrounding prayer cloths and other spiritual items only serves to confirm the fact that prayer, in this day and age, does not prove effective in completely removing sickness.
http://www.bible.ca/tongues-photogallery-pentecostal-trinkets.htm http://www.commercemarketplace.com/home/Apostolate/onhold/History_of_Prayer_Cloths.html http://www.donstewartassociation.com/greencloth.htm http://www.donstewartassociation.com/miracles.html http://www.myfortress.org/PrayerClothes.html http://www.skeptiseum.org/exhibits/miracles/miraclecloth.html
Bosworth, Hayden B., Decastro, Laura, Edwards, Christopher L., Koenig, Harold G., Harrison, M. Ojinga, Wood, Mary (2005). Religiosity/Spirituality and Pain in Patients with Sickle Cell Disease. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 193, 250-257.
Katerndahl, David, Morgan-Kidd, Jayne, Palmer, Raymond F. (2004). A Randomized Trial of the Effects of Remote Intercessory Prayer: Interactions with Personal Beliefs on Problem-Specific Outcomes and Functional Status. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 10, 438-448.
Lane, Mary Rockwood (2005). Creativity and Spirituality in Nursing: Implementing Art in Healing. Holistic Nursing Practice. 19, 122-125.
Segen, J.C. (1998). Dictionary of Alternative Medicine.
Taylor, Elizabeth Johnston (2005). Spiritual Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care. Seminars in Oncology Nursing. 21, 159-163.
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